The Legend Of "Legends Of The Hidden Temple," As Told By Kirk Fogg and Olmec
In honor of the Nickelodeon show’s 20th anniversary, former host Kirk Fogg and the voice behind Olmec, Dee Bradley Baker, talked to BuzzFeed about what went on behind the temple gates, those “dreaded temple guards,” why the Shrine of the Silver Monkey was so damn hard, and much more.
In the '90s, Nickelodeon was dominated by game shows like Double Dare, Wild & Crazy Kids and GUTS. Sure, you still fantasize about holding up a glowing piece of the Aggro Crag while glitter whirls in the air and
Burt Hummel Mike O'Malley applauds your efforts, or fishing that coveted red flag out of a giant nasal cavity while trying not to slip on shaving cream as Marc Summers cheers you on. But there's one show that seems to still permeate current conversations more than any other: Legends of the Hidden Temple.
The Mayan temple-set game show — which tested preteens through both physical and mental challenges, centering on the "legend" of the episode in hopes of winning a trip to space camp — has prompted fan fiction series, Facebook groups pleading for its return, and many a Halloween costume.
Today, Legends turns 20, and in honor of the milestone anniversary, host Kirk Fogg and the voice of Olmec, Dee Bradley Baker, spoke to BuzzFeed about getting cast on the show, the disastrous first season, the contestant who vomited, the seemingly innocuous Shrine of the Silver Monkey, who exactly was behind those Temple Guard masks, what you'd find in Fogg's belt pack (besides that coveted Half-Pendant of Life), and much, much more.
Casting The Men Of Legends
It's hard to imagine a man named Kirk Fogg destined to do anything other than host a game show where the first challenge involved contestants making their way across a moat covered in a thick layer of smoke.
Some might call it destiny, but Fogg called it something else.
"It was a fluke," he said with a laugh of the gig he won't ever live down. "Back in the day, they used to have this Screen Actors Guild directory and they were looking at pictures. They picked me out and they called me over. I went in with co-executive producer Steven Brown and he literally just had a camera on and said, 'Can you read this play-by-play?' It was the run through the temple and I had no idea what he was talking about, but my brother and I used to do that all the time; we would make up football games and we used to do our own play-by-play. So I just pulled a little bit of that out and he was like, 'Oh, you know how to do that!' I'm like, 'Yeah!'"
Finding the voice of Olmec, a large faux rock being that presided over the temple and had the "secrets" to the legends, proved slightly more challenging, but for Dee Bradley Baker, it was just another audition. "I was with a voiceover agency in Orlando and I think they got the call. I went in and just started reading some of the legends," Baker said. "I tried using the different voices that were in the legend and they liked what I did. It was just really me trying something. You look at it and go, What is it? Well, it's a giant talking rock head that looks very authoritative and it is. It's big and serious... So what does that sound like? [In Olmec voice] 'It's a big booming voice like that.' I think we found it pretty quickly just because it's kind of obviously what it needs to be: this big, booming, loud, god-like voice.
"I'm not sure if they tried me and Kirk working together," Baker added of the audition process. "But Kirk and I had a lot of fun. No combat between us."
"I remember going into the little conference room in Orlando and meeting him," Fogg said of Baker. "He was such a great guy and he was really super funny. He had great voices already and he was a local Orlando kid. I got to know him really well."
Olmec's legendary "Let's rock!" catchphrase actually came out of Fogg and Baker's bond. "I think it may have been that I just kind of came up with that, just to have a little bit more back and forth between Kirk and me," Baker said. "And then later, we added kind of a little grunt or a moan or an effort sound while he's raising the gate to the Temple Run."
A Rocky Start
Despite the fact that the talent was getting along swimmingly, Fogg admitted that the show itself had more than a few bumps at the beginning, especially since they were filming about five shows a day.
"We shot the whole season in two or three weeks because there were 40 episodes a season. It was a really, really difficult show to do," he said. "You know, Stone Stanley [the company that produced Legends, which was founded by David Stanley and Scott Stone] got the show kind of on a whim too and they sort of had to scramble. They'd never done a pilot before so they hadn't done any sort of a mock-up or anything. Like everybody in the business, you always say, 'Oh yeah, I can do that!' until they all flew out to Universal and everybody was sort of running around like they were chickens with their heads cut off, trying to figure out how they were going to put the show on. And the show was so technical-heavy that they didn't really have time to show me how to do the show.
"They tried to explain it to me before they even built it and I was looking at them like they had 10 heads." Fogg recalled. "They'd say, 'Well, here's some copy that we've written,' and it'd be the legend so I would walk around Universal Studios and around our set while they're building and scrambling, reading these legends, going, 'And how does that relate to…' The whole first season was an absolute... I mean, really, to be honest with you, the first season was not fun. It was really, really hard because they had me doing everything. They had me intro-ing the show; and then I would read the legend; and then I would introduce the game; and then I would do the play-by-play; and then I'd have to wrap up the score; and then I'd have to go into another legend; and then I'd have to introduce the game. It was nonstop," he said with a sigh.
Meanwhile, Baker had more down time. "I was physically inside the Olmec head, operating his mouth while he talked. I had a little podium back there with a monitor and earphones and I could watch the show while we were performing it. The eyes were triggered to light up when I'd speak and then I was operating the mouth with this big lever. But whenever there was a portion where Olmec wasn't doing anything, I was either sitting back there reading probably a science-fiction novel or something, or I'd be out there watching the stunts as they were doing them. So it wasn't like I was hidden. I'd come out and say hi to the audience and to the kids."
Baker had it relatively easy in Season 1 compared to Fogg, but things soon changed.
When Things Fell Into Place
In Season 2, Baker had less time to read inside Olmec's head; he started reading the legends at the start of the game as well. "Kirk did a lot of work on the show," Baker noted of the switch. "They kind of saw that people liked the talking rock and we started developing a nice little dynamic and so I think it just kind of evened out the workload and allowed this character that they liked to be a little bit more present in their magical world that they'd created."
Though he was thrilled to do it, Baker admits that some of the so-called "legends" were a bit absurd. "There was one that I remember in particular that they had to modify — I think Grandy Nanny was her name. Some were legends, some were actually historical events; they played pretty fast and loose with the definition of a 'legend.' And then, even if it was a legend, it wasn't like they were accurate or true to that actual legend. I mean, this one in particular, it was like a Jamaican heroic grandma. I think the story was, if I remember correctly, she would shoot cannonballs out of her ass at the bad guys. But they changed the shooting of the cannonballs out of her butt to something completely different because you couldn't do that on a kids game show. I just found that one to be so over-the-top and bizarre; but we couldn't say it. It was a little too inappropriate, I guess, for the kids."
Fogg said, "Giving Olmec the legends really lessened my load." But, he added, "I always said, 'Thank god Olmec didn't have legs because he probably would've hosted the show.'"
Fogg also got an assistant to ease the strain of shooting five shows at once. "They could follow me around and keep track of all the shows and all the stuff that each kid did so they could remind me," Fogg said. "We would shoot all five Moats; and then we'd go and shoot all five Steps of Knowledge; and then all the Temple Games; and then, at the end of the day, all the Temple Runs. It was really a lot to handle."
You Will Not Believe Who Was Behind The Temple Guard Masks
It's safe to say that any viewer of Legends had nightmares about shirtless men with headdresses and masks scaring the living daylights out of them, thanks to the Temple Guards.
So who were the men behind the masks? "The Temple Guards were all the guys that were running the show in the khakis; the little safari guys during the moat," Fogg revealed. "And an occasional associate producer or the writer of the show because everybody wanted to do it."
The contestants had no idea that the men who helped them cross the moat safely at the start of the show were the ones who made them cry if they were lucky enough to get to the Temple Run.
"They loved doing that. That was probably the best part of their whole day," Fogg said of the spotters turned Temple Guards. "They were working their butts off. They helped create the sets; work on 'em; build 'em; haul them in; and then, they actually worked on them on the day of the show because they knew how to work the games. These guys were great."
"Sometimes they'd come out at the end of the show and they'd dance in full Temple Guard costume," Baker noted. "But to have a masked, mostly naked adult attacking you while you're in this panic mode to begin with is pretty scary. Sometimes, the kids were truly frightened. For some kids, it wasn't a big deal, but for others, it would really just scare the crap out of them, which is fun to watch. Most of them took it pretty well."
The Temple Meltdown To End All Meltdowns
Again though, some did not take it so well. "They would have to stop the show every once in awhile during the middle of those runs because of kid meltdowns," Fogg revealed. "Sometimes they'd be hysterically crying in the middle of the temple. The one girl that's the famous one, she had a complete meltdown in the Pit of Despair so that was kind of ironic. She started bawling in the Pit of Despair and then she vomited in there. That's the only time that happened. We had to cut, clean it up, clean the balls, and then, we had to reset her exactly where she was when we cut the time.
"But I'm telling you, when they win, man, we were all super excited and I think you see that in the show," Fogg added.
Was The Shrine Of The Silver Monkey Really That Challenging?
"It was super hard," Fogg confirmed. "First of all, it was huge. It wasn't like, Oh, this looks bigger on camera. No. It was huge."
"And every season, after we'd do rehearsal and get ready to do the show, I'd say, 'OK, now open all the doors and set the clock and I gotta get in and out of there in under three minutes.' I had to do it. But let me tell you, with all the doors open, going all the way to the end and coming back, using every room, I was absolutely dying."
Contestants did have the opportunity to do a temple walkthrough and/or watch a video, but still, getting through successfully with the artifact in hand was clearly no easy feat, both Fogg and Baker said.
"They'd have it in their mind essentially what they needed to do," Baker added. "And then, you'd have everyone involved with producing the show from Kirk and me, to the producers and the stunt people, yelling at them for what to do next. Half of the battle was just moving through fast enough. Most kids did not hustle; you gotta sprint. It's a time lock. And the other half is just kind of luck and agility, remembering where you came from, and then how to get back out if you actually accomplish it, and then just getting the heck out of that place when all the doors open."
Was it ever discussed that the game was too hard? Was all the above really worth, say, a year's worth of Chef Boyardee, a boombox, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia on CD-ROM, or some skate shoes?
"I was never privy to that conversation if they had it, but then they also had the inauspicious task of keeping it to only eight grand prizes every year," Fogg explained. "They couldn't give out space camp 20 times. They had to figure out how to even it out with being fair and legal."
After three seasons, 120 episodes, and 32 grand-prize winners, the gates closed on the temple forever. "Good ol' Nickelodeon, they'll cancel a show without you knowing, which I guess is like anybody," Fogg said. "But I would've loved for it to be canceled while I was there because I would've stolen the Shrine of the Silver Monkey."
"I do still have the jean shirt," he added. Just one? "There was just one jean shirt," he said with a laugh. "Maybe there were a couple, but I did bring one home."
Besides a mug, a poster, and a T-shirt, it's really the only item he has from the set. And poor Baker has nothin'. "I wish that I had a piece of Olmec in some way," he said.
Thank You For Being A Friend
After the show ended, Fogg returned to Los Angeles and Baker eventually followed. "I told him — and I will take the credit for his career — but he had all these friends who basically worked for Universal or Disney so we'd always hang out and have these little parties and stuff. His friends were hilarious. One of those friends was Moira Quirk (aka "Mo with the leaderboard" on GUTS). "She and her husband, who's a juggler and entertainer and a really great stand-up, warm-up guy, we've been friends since Orlando," Baker said. "We were just part of the pool of entertainers and performers they drew upon to do all sorts of stuff. A lot of us ended up coming out here."
All thanks to Fogg though, he insists. "Finally, I just told him, 'Dee, you gotta get out of Orlando. You've got to come to L.A. That's how you're going to make your career happen,'" Fogg recalled. "So he actually called me up when I was back and said, 'I'm coming to L.A.' And I said, 'Well, come over. You can sleep on my couch for awhile.' So he came out and that's how he got started."
As for his trepidation, Baker said, "I had seen a PBS documentary in high school about what a hell hole Hollywood was. So I just kind of had it in my mind that that was a place that no one would want to go. But I came out and it looked kind of fun. It seemed like the right thing to do. Kirk was having a good time out here with plenty of work and I liked the energy of it and I think it was going just about as good as it was ever going to go in Orlando for me, which was actually very good. It was a great variety of stuff that I was doing. It just kind of felt like, I'm not really too tied down with anything and my wife thought it'd be fun too. I handed in my resignation when I got back from my little trip with Kirk and we just threw everything in our Tercel and just headed on out."
What’s Become Of Your Favorite Guide and Favorite Talking Head
"I probably choked somewhere down the line with my career because at the time I got the show, I had actually won a writing fellowship through Steven Spielberg's company," Fogg said. "I had been wanting to write screenplays and make movies since I was in New York, along with acting, which I studied seriously while I was there. I submitted to this Chesterfield Writing Fellowship through Amblin, and I got it. I was one out of 10 guys… So I was having a great year and I thought, Oh hosting, that's nice, but really I'm a serious filmmaker, and I think that was probably where I needed to head off. But I didn't. That's just the way it goes, but it would still be nice to host a show. I'd love it."
For now, Fogg, the father of 8-year-old and 11-year-old daughters, is still doing commercial work (and says it's the unflattering sweatsuit that makes him look so "different").
He's also been building houses in L.A. for the past eight years. "I love it; it's like producing and making money," Fogg said.
Plus, he's writing a book. "It's kind of a funny tell-all book that's kind of a, Legends of the Hidden Temple of My Life sort of thing," Fogg said of his latest project, which is set to come out sometime in 2014. "It's so great that the fans really love the show. It does make me feel really good. And they need to bring it back!"
Baker — who's currently doing voicework on a plethora of shows (from American Dad, to Legend of Kora, to Phineas and Ferb), and who also has two websites (one for his macrophotogrpahy and another with voiceover advice) — agrees.
He too has two daughters, who are 10 and 13, and says his oldest "really got into Legends" when it was on Nick GAS throughout most of the 2000s. "I think I recorded some episodes. I haven't showed it to my youngest yet. But a lot of my Twitter followers, they really, really want more Legends Of The Hidden Temple," he said. "That sounds good to me, but I don't make the show, I'm a gun for hire. I think that the fans are fantastic and I love that they love the show. I hope that they bring kids game shows back because I think they really respond to that. So yes, let's do some more!"
The audience is already there. Though it's been 18 years since Legends was canceled, the fan base is as devoted as ever. There is elaborate fan art, "Olmec Is My Homeboy" bumper stickers, petitions to Viacom to bring the show back, even strategizing about how to win when the show hasn't been on since before Kylie or Kendall Jenner was born.
A confessional from a former contestant went viral earlier this year, and you'd be hard-pressed to go to a college Halloween party without seeing pairs of the Red Jaguars, the Blue Barracudas, the Green Monkeys, the Orange Iguanas, the Purple Parrots, or the Silver Snakes, complete with some ever-ugly water shoes, gold helmets, and a can of Bud Light.
"Before MySpace, I didn't realize people were into the show," Fogg said. "The fans were young so they weren't communicating with anybody about it like that. But once they got older, they started communicating. The first thing I remember was this Kirk Fogg's African Adventure. It's a rock band out of North Carolina or something like that." Though he's never been in touch with the band, he's fine with them using his name.
"One of my close friends, his nephew is from Chicago and he's going to the University of Illinois. He was visiting and he was like, 'It's really super nice meeting you,'" Fogg said, imitating a breathy voice. "I'm like Gilligan of Gilligan's Island from my generation. It's so funny; it's mostly college kids. And all the nannies and all the nannies' boyfriends know me, too."
In early August, TeenNick aired a Legends marathon and Baker decided to seize the opportunity, live-tweeting the episodes.
"I had never done that," Baker said. "The next day, I was renting a car at the airport and there was this kid, who works at Disney World and was out here for D23, and he and his girlfriend had been following my live tweeting the night before. It kind of knocked me out," he said with a laugh. "It's always been the case that that show and that character of Olmec is probably the most impressive thing I'll ever do. I've done a lot of really cool shows, to be sure, that people love, but man, the kind of fan excitement that you get from telling someone that you were Olmec is kind of on its own level. It really always surprises me how much people connect to and love that show."